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Contact: Chelsea Sullivan, 202-619-7177
WASHINGTON—To improve recreational opportunities, minimize impacts to natural and historic resources, and address the needs of people who drive and those who use non-motorized transportation, the National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to close the upper portion of Beach Drive NW to motorized vehicles from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day every year. We encourage the public to review the Environmental Assessment (EA) and share comments through August 11.
Previous proposals for the management of the upper portion of Beach Drive called for making the current full-time closure to motorized vehicles permanent or reverting to the pre-pandemic schedule of weekend and holiday closures. After careful consideration of the potential effects of these alternatives on park resources, as well as consideration of traffic analysis and the many comments received from the public, the NPS sees the seasonal closure as the best way to protect park resources and strike a balance of different uses – whether visitors are walking, cycling, commuting or scenic-driving.
“Rock Creek Park provides endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, exploration and relaxation in the heart of Washington, D.C.,” Julia Washburn, Rock Creek Park superintendent, said. “The preferred alternative is a compromise that will allow us to best protect natural resources, while providing access to this beloved area of the park to the greatest number of visitors.”
Beginning in late April 2020, the NPS temporarily expanded the closure of the upper portion of Beach Drive to increase socially distanced recreational opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists. This closure has provided a valuable opportunity for park visitors to recreate more freely and safely within Rock Creek Park. Adopting a seasonal closure schedule will allow visitors to enjoy the park’s recreation and nature opportunities during the summer and will allow drivers to commute through the park when there are fewer recreational visitors.
The seasonal closure would include Bingham Drive (0.43 miles), Sherrill Drive (0.34 miles) and Beach Drive (4.28 miles) in three sections:
From Broad Branch Road to Joyce Road,
From Picnic Area 10 to Wise Road, and
From West Beach Drive to the Maryland boundary.
Between Joyce Road and Picnic Area 10, Beach Drive would remain open to motorized vehicles only to access group picnic areas and parking lots. Ross Drive would always be open to motorized vehicles.
The EA acknowledges that while a seasonal closure for recreation could delay motorists and increase travel times to key park sites or through the park in the summer, including during peak weekday travel times, these impacts would not be substantial. Based on a traffic analysis performed in collaboration with the District Department of Transportation, traffic delays and impacts are predicted to be minor and could be mitigated with tools like adjusting traffic light timing, adding signals and stop signs, and implementing traffic calming measures.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic on the upper portion of Beach Drive varied between approximately 5,500-8,000 vehicles per weekday. By comparison, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway averaged approximately 50,000 vehicles per weekday.
As part of the EA process, the NPS analyzed the potential for the proposed closures to impact visitor use and experience, transportation and safety, historic districts and cultural landscapes, and wildlife and habitat.
In 1966, the NPS limited driver access to Beach Drive on Sundays between Joyce Road and Broad Branch Road to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to use the road exclusively for the first time. In the early 1980s, the NPS expanded non-motorized use to include Saturdays and federal holidays and extended the closure north to the Maryland state line.
If implemented, the NPS will monitor the effects of a seasonal closure. The selection of the preferred alternative will allow the superintendent to expand or reduce the closure in the future, based on changes to the condition of park resources and the visitor experience.
The upper portion of Beach Drive will remain closed until a final determination is made later this year.
Public participation is vital to the planning process. During the previous 45-day public comment period, the NPS received more than 4,100 individual comments, which shared a range of thoughts and suggestions. We invite the public’s continued interest in this issue, and we look forward to the conversation. Learn more at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/beachdrive.
Attend the public meeting: The NPS will host a live, virtual public meeting on July 18, 2022 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Join the meeting. To connect to audio, use the meeting website link or dial, +1 202-640-1187, 146280403#. A recording of the meeting will also be available to view at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/beachdrive after the meeting.
How to comment: You are invited to review the proposal and provide comments and ideas from July 11 through August 11, 2022. To provide comments online or get additional information on the project, visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/beachdrive. If you prefer to mail your comments, make sure they are postmarked by August 11, 2022, to receive consideration.
Mail comments to the following address:
ATTN: Beach Drive
Rock Creek Park
3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Before including personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
Last updated: July 11, 2022